Game On Dude won the Native Diver Handicap on Dec. 1, his most recent start.

Game On Dude won the Native Diver Handicap on Dec. 1, his most recent start.

Benoit Photo

'Dude' Set for Super Tuneup in San Antonio

Just four entered against heavy favorite in Santa Anita Handicap prep race Feb. 3.

Game On Dude will have at most four rivals when he returns to Santa Anita Park in the $200,000 San Antonio Stakes (gr. II) on Super Bowl Sunday Feb. 3.

Two of the entrants in the 1 1/8-mile main track test, Clubhouse Ride  and Chosen Miracle, are also entered in the Arcadia Handicap (gr. IIT) at one mile on grass a day before the San Antonio. The Arcadia drew a tough 14-horse field, so the sparsely populated starting gate for Sunday's feature could be inviting.

A short field in the San Antonio is nothing new for Game On Dude, a lifetime earner of more than $3.1 million who vanquished four opponents in last year's renewal by 5 1/4 lengths. That race served as a prep for the Dubai World Cup (UAE-I), a nightmare trip for both the horse and his trainer, Bob Baffert. Game On Dude ran 12th and his Hall of Fame conditioner suffered a heart attack from which he fortunately recovered fully.

This time around, the 6-year-old Awesome Again  gelding is using the San Antonio to sharpen up for the Santa Anita Handicap (gr. I) March 2, a race he won in 2011.

That is one of four grade I wins Game On Dude has recorded in his 22-race career. He has been at his best at Santa Anita, where he has won five of his six starts. The exception came in last fall's Breeders' Cup Classic (gr. I), when Game On Dude was steadied at the start and was never involved while finishing seventh.

The big dark bay has had one start since the Breeders' Cup, going gate to wire to capture the Native Diver Handicap (gr. III) as the 3-10 choice in a five-horse field Dec. 1 on Cushion Track at Betfair Hollywood Park. He has not missed a beat in his training since then and comes into the race off a five-furlong move in :59 3/5 Jan. 28.

Jockey Mike Smith says he'll use similar tactics in the San Antonio, though he is aware that small fields come with their own brand of peril, especially for a prohibitive favorite. Game On Dude, top-weighted at 123 pounds, drew post 2.

"Things can happen in short fields, as we all know," Smith said. "Everyone knows where everyone's at. Each rider can kind of sit there and make it a sprint for home, but Game On Dude's a naturally quick horse and has a great cruising speed.

"I'm just going to let him do his thing, and I'd do that even if it was a bigger field. We've just got to get away well and get him in a place where he can do what he does best, and that's run. That's my job, anyway. Hopefully, he does the rest."

The job was made easier when the horse that would have been Game On Dude's chief rival, grade I winner Ultimate Eagle, was not entered. Trainer Michael Pender reportedly intends to send the speedy 5-year-old to Gulfstream Park to compete in the Donn Handicap (gr. I) Feb. 9.

With limited experience on dirt, the swift Chosen Miracle could give Game On Dude the most trouble. Also entered in the Arcadia by trainer Jerry Hollendorfer, the 5-year-old son of Ghostzapper  is coming off a strong front-running effort in the nine-furlong San Gabriel Stakes (gr. IIT) on grass Jan. 13, setting a lively pace before giving way in the final furlong to Jeranimo  and finishing third.

Chosen Miracle, owned by Peter Abruzzo and John Carver, broke his maiden at first asking on a sloppy main track going six furlongs at Hawthorne in April 2011. in his only other try on dirt, he ran last in the Iowa Derby (gr. III) at Prairie Meadows.

Also entered in the Arcadia was Clubhouse Ride, who drew the rail for the San Antonio for trainer Craig Lewis. The 5-year-old son of Candy Ride  ran second in the off-the-turf Daytona Stakes (gr. III) over the track at 6 1/2 furlongs Jan. 10 but figures to be severely tested at the San Antonio distance.

Zillah Reddam's Basmati, on the comeback trail since late last year for trainer Doug O'Neill following an 11-month absence, stretches out after fading to last in the Malibu Stakes (gr. I) Dec. 26. The 4-year-old Borrego colt ran second in the 2011 Delta Downs Jackpot (gr. III).

Make Music for Me, fifth in the Native Diver after being on the sidelines for 6 1/2 months, completes the field.

A special early first post is at 11 a.m. PST in deference to the Super Bowl, with the San Antonio set as the seventh race on the card with a scheduled 2 p.m. starting time.

$200,000 San Antonio Stakes (gr. II, Race 7, 2 p.m.), 4 & Up, 1 1/8 Miles
PP. Horse, Jockey, Weight, Trainer
1. Clubhouse Ride (KY), A T Gryder, 118, C A Lewis
2. Game On Dude (KY), M E Smith, 123, B Baffert
3. Make Music for Me (KY), M Garcia, 118, A Barba
4. Chosen Miracle (FL), J Talamo, 118, J Hollendorfer
5. Basmati (KY), M Gutierrez, 118, D F O'Neill